March 1, 2024



Let’s get straight to it: If we reopen our schools some teachers will catch the covid-19 virus and some will die.

We know that Boris cares for state education. I remember he mentioned it on the eve of the General Election. He also said something about increasing funding. Schools have now been told that they will have to fund any government awarded teacher pay rise  out of existing budgets. Cuts, therefore continue.

We know he cares about teachers because he read out a list on Sunday where we were placed in the appropriate alphabetical order.

Scientists of different varieties say:

  • Children do or don’t get the covid-19 virus.
  • Kids don’t die much from the virus.
  • Students may or may not transmit the virus less or more than adults.

But the government has a road map.

Some schools are to re-open from June 1st. The least sensible option would be to call in those children who can’t socially isolate, like to play with soft things and occasionally need a plaster. The least vital returnees would be those who can’t now do the inessential post SATs work. Oh dear, the road map signals Reception, Year1 and Year 6 to start first. Their unions don’t agree. Do you think primary teachers would have prioritised these children?

Do you think they were asked?

When it comes to opening schools, whilst the virus rules and there’s no vaccine, it’s just a suicide mission for some of us; maybe just a few, dozens, hundreds.

I want no-one to worry about this: if you fear for your own or your family’s health I am not in the business of signing death warrants, or attending any more children’s or teachers’ funerals. Be aware of your family’s health, yes, be alert to the possibilities and stay home to stay safe.

Let’s not worry about the radio phone-in whingers who say “You’re being paid; go to work. When I was a boy…”

Let’s smile sweetly at those who say we’ve been on a long holiday these last 8 weeks. I’ve seen the amount of work set, phone-calls, emails, video/google/zoom lessons and meetings. I’ve seen all the data that shows how each student is working in every subject and yes, I know, a third of them (in my school)  haven’t been doing much if anything. I’ve seen the predicted grades \ rank order deliberations and rewrites and I’ve heard the disappointment from teachers who have worked really well with Year 11s and this was going to be a record breaking year. No teacher wants to work from home – we’ve always been in it for the kids and this home schooling lark is dull for teachers, too.

Many of the younger staff live in flats without balconies or communal gardens. They, too, are stir-crazy and have been clamouring to be put on our care of key workers rota so they can come to school. Many are struggling with reticent children of their own and trying to get them off one tablet and on to a laptop, once they have finished setting on line lessons themselves. Their children, I hope, are not amongst the 170,000 children classed as homeless in the UK.

We’ve delivered goggles and gloves to a hospital and I’ve been released to drive thousands of masks to care homes, special schools, paramedics, hospice and surgeries in and around Ware. A 4th teacher joined the 3 who have spent weeks making these masks, another has been making surgical gowns. Parents and friends donated almost £3,000 so that we can make up for some of the deficiencies in a NHS condemned by 10 years of cuts by Boris and his mates.

When this virus passes, fades or ends let’s make sure no government ever abandons the NHS, its workers, or our health without us doing a little more than clapping.

Our staff are desperate to get back to working with children. As a preliminary, do I get staff and parents to sign a waiver in case they get seriously ill?

As an employer of around 130 people I have a duty of care to each of them and I cannot deliberately put them at risk. Some politicians and the DfE say we don’t need PPE and we must not wear surgical masks because that will reduce the supply to the NHS. These giants may offer some Turkish gear, cheap. However 8% of teachers in a recent TES survey agreed that they do not need PPE, the other 92% were wrong of course.

I don’t expect to see anyone with asthma, diabetes or epilepsy in school. I will not be chasing, admonishing or failing kids and staff who are frightened to come to school – or should I force them? You see, schools are recognised as hubs for the transmission of diseases in normal times and I doubt this virus will back off knowing this return to school is an attempt at herd immunity by stealth.

Because we really want to teach, see our shared role in saving the economy and teaching the kids who will have to mop up this disaster for years, this is how my school could start when we welcome any secondary school students in a pandemic, and that might not be for months yet:

  • The current year 10 only will be taught Monday – Thursday only. We will do lots of cleaning on Fridays as well as having site staff cleaning anything that doesn’t move, all day long, every day.
  • Half of the year group will come in from 9.00am – 12.00pm. The other half will do 12.30pm – 3.30pm (No calling for your mates, getting on a bus, walking with anyone, giving friends a lift).
  • Kids will line up 2 metres apart in the playground.
  • Groups of 12 maximum will be escorted to a room where they will stay.
  • Instead of hour long lessons we will “teach” 40 minute classes.
  • Classes will have subject specialists but probably not the teacher who has taught this group since September.
  • I will be on corridors wearing one of our visors and I will bark at children getting close.
  • In those rooms kids will be seated 2 metres apart.
  • The teacher, in a visor or own mask, will not get closer than 2 metres to a student.
  • There will be no handing out of books or equipment after initial distribution.
  • The teacher will not be able to look at your work, do any marking as you write, nor will they collect in work.
  • Kids will be escorted out of the building for breaks where they will stay 2 metres apart or receive a piercing blast on a deputy head’s disposable whistle.
  • There will be no drama lessons and no PE involving changing rooms.
  • At 12.00pm students will be able, by prior appointment, to enter the canteen (two metres apart) and take a previously purchased (by Wisepay not cash or cheque) packed lunch from a long table. Then leave the building and go home.
  • The 12.30pm attendees will start in the playground and be escorted……
  • Teachers and Teaching Assistants will work according to a rota; admin as required and cleaners a lot more. We will be cleaning surfaces all day, if we have enough disinfectant now that Mr Trump has reduced availability.

We have written a timetable for this scenario. Staff with existing conditions, pregnancy, illness,  screened or sick relatives at home cannot be called upon. I’m 67 and fat and the doctor says I have asthma – do I go in?

So lots of cover work. Those kids who benefit from closer help, a bit of live marking or even a pat on the back will have to get used to formality.

The teachers will go home and set work for the other 800 kids on line.

That’s week one for Year 10. What do we do in week two?

There’s no way these students can be judged by exams alone, is there?

So Year 7, 8 and 9 keep doing the work at home. Year 6: We have a plan to help you visit us in small groups before September. You can’t come until the shops open to sell you a school uniform.

We want to teach, to care and nurture our young people, to help them see how important and valuable each of them is and how every last one of them has a part to play in creating a fairer society and world. Politicians should listen to us.

Dennis O’Sullivan (Headteacher)

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